DESC is an organization that started in 1979 and focuses on “providing effective and affordable solutions to homelessness for our communities most vulnerable single adults”. Their focus is on “housing first”, an evidence-based approach adopted by other programs around the nation as our homelessness crisis continues to get worse. They have four locations with over 400 emergency shelter beds, 11 supportive housing sites, and two that are currently in the works. One of these, a staff supportive housing, is going to be located in Southeast Seattle and focus to provide a supportive services for homeless men and women living with disabilities. This project is a partnership with Harborview Medical Center and will sent you are a round a assisted living facility in which there will be Healthcare Services on site for these individuals. A portion of this housing will also be for those who need transitional housing after leaving the hospital with complex needs that a conventional residential care system is unable to accommodate.
In addition to housing, DESC provides a multitude of outreach and treatment programs for all those who walk through their doors. They work with community health programs in bringing care to those that are most vulnerable in our communities. For example, there is currently supportive housing complex for those who have limited function due to severe schizophrenia. There also supportive housing for those undergoing substance use and co-occurring mental illness.
When I first reached out to Jaime Moss, the program director at DESC, he told me to swing by on Monday morning at 10:30am. I later found out that the first Monday of the month is when everyone receives their monthly Social Security payments so it was a perfect chance for me to meet a lot of the individuals that frequent DESC’s services. While waiting in the lobby for Jaime, I spoke with the gentleman who had been frequenting DESC services for several years now. He has a case manager that helps him get access to overnight shelters and attends support groups at DESC for his heroin addiction. He expressed that the people at DESC treated him like he was “human”, especially with his addiction.
During my conversation with Jaime, we talked about his personal philosophy towards addiction treatment. He talked about the many traumas that those undergoing homelessness undergo through their lives including abuse, violence, racism, bigotry, and mental illness. He then delved into how society’s system of penalizing those for something they cannot control at time sonly exacerbated their distrust of those around them. DESC is a pioneer in trialing different types of approaches due to its expansive network of coverage. Addiction treatment is very individual based so his belief that having different types of approaches is key to adapting treatments and supporting the recovery process. For instance, a new program at DESC centers around allocating a portion of an individual’s SS benefits for alcohol use. What trends show is that normally, most of the money from Social Security is spent immediately on alcohol. This leads to the person panhandling or doing illegal activities later in the month to get money to sustain their habit. or panhandling for money to sustain their use. By having a person control the money, there is less binging and a more steady stabilization of alcohol intake. This has shown to be effective with several people who are now able to have more animated interactions with those around them including case managers are DESC. It is understandable that this approach could be paternalistic, but there is a clear understanding that nothing is done without the client’s knowledge and agreement.
Jaime stressed the importance of building relationships. One of the most difficult aspects of his job is reducing staff turnover due to inadequate compensation (pay is partly with Medicaid coverage) and burnout. When case managers work so closely with clients, it is the clients who suffer most when case managers leave since many of them have a history of loss and the system letting them down. Jaime has been at DESC for 9 years and is familiar with most people at DESC. He mitigates the effects these turnover rates have on clients by being transparent and honest in his conversations with them about why people leave. However, what he offers in return is a commitment that someone will be there no matter what, even if it’s not who they wanted. And that is essentially what DESC strives to do.